Hurricane Michael Was the Third Most Intense Continental U.S. Landfall on Record, an Unprecedented Location for a Category 4 Landfall

Jonathan Erdman
Published: October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael made a Category 4 landfall Wednesday, not only of unprecedented strength in the Florida Panhandle, but also one of the most intense landfalls on record in the continental U.S.

(MORE: Complete Coverage of Hurricane Michael)

Michael plowed ashore just after midday Wednesday near Mexico Beach, Florida, packing maximum sustained winds of 155 mph.

With an estimated minimum central pressure of 919 millibars, Michael was the third most intense hurricane landfall in the continental United States, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division.

As measured by minimum central pressure at landfall, here are the most intense continental U.S. hurricane landfalls from 1851-2017.

Only a pair of Category 5 landfalls, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and the Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, had lower central pressure at continental U.S. landfall than Michael.

A hurricane's central pressure is just one metric meteorologists use to put hurricanes into historical context. The lower the pressure, the more intense the hurricane.

Among the hurricane landfalls Michael's central pressure beat out were Katrina (920 millibars), Andrew (922 millibars) and Irma (931 millibars). 

Michael was by far the most intense hurricane to landfall in the Florida Panhandle, according to NOAA's 167-year best-track hurricane database. 

Prior to Michael, there were 27 Category 4 or stronger hurricanes that made landfall in the continental U.S. in records dating to 1851, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division. 

Locations of Cat. 4 continental U.S. hurricane landfalls from 1851-2017, with infrared satellite image of Category 4 Hurricane Michael at landfall on Oct. 10, 2018.
(Data: NOAA/HRD)

Florida had the most such Category 4+ landfalls with 13, followed by Texas with 7. All 13 of those Florida landfalls had happened in South Florida, prior to Michael.

There hadn't been any Category 4 or stronger landfalls further north along the Florida Gulf Coast than Hurricane Charley, which slammed ashore on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers/Cape Coral in 2004.

Prior to Michael, no Category 4 or stronger made landfall in the U.S. in the 600-plus-mile stretch between Charley's landfall in southwest Florida and where Camille roared ashore as a Category 5 in Mississippi in 1969. 

October Oddity

The majority of continental U.S. Category 4+ hurricane landfalls have happened in either September or August.

Michael will also be the first Category 4+ continental U.S. hurricane landfall to happen in October in 64 years. 

There have been only four such landfalls since the mid-19th century:

  • Hazel (1954) in the Carolinas
  • King (1950) in south Florida
  • The Georgia Hurricane (1898)
  • Chenier Caminanda Hurricane (1893) in southeast Louisiana

The number of continental U.S. Category 4 or stronger hurricanes to landfall, by month, from 1851-2017.

Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground notes that only Hazel and King made a Category 4 continental U.S. landfall later in the year than Michael. Given both hit with winds of 130 mph, Michael is the strongest U.S. landfalling hurricane on record so late in the year, Masters said.

Michael made landfall more than a month later than the five most intense hurricanes by pressure listed above, according to Bob Henson of Weather Underground.

(MORE: Weather Underground Cat. 6 Blogs)

Exceptionally warm water in the Gulf of Mexico insulated Michael from previously strong wind shear in the Caribbean Sea as the storm was organizing. Over the Gulf of Mexico, winds aloft ventilated the hurricane, allowing it to form an intense inner core of convection to intensify.

Given both the historical rarity, intensity and impact, it's likely the name Michael will be retired from future use for Atlantic when a committee of the World Meteorological Organization convenes in spring 2019. 

This would be the third straight "M" hurricane to be retired, following Maria in 2017 and Matthew in 2016. 

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